Friday, November 3, 2017

Louis XIV, Louis XV, Donald I

"L'etat, c'est moi." Louis XIV.
"French King Louis XIV believed that he had the right to do whatever he desired as the ruler of France. When asked to explain how he thought the king should interact with the rest of the government and the people, his reply was, “L’etat, c’est moi”, or “I am the state”, meaning that he was bound by no rules and had no limits.
Over the years, the expression became a catch phrase for those government officials who overstepped their bounds."
“The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters.” Donald Trump
"Apres moi, le deluge." (After me, the flood.) Louis XV

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, by Michael Burleigh.

Synopsis: The Nazis were bad people who did bad things for bad reasons. The Soviets under Stalin were bad people who did bad things for one good reason. The Japanese did a lot of bad things, but since the legal definition of conspiracy is unfathomable, those things just happened – and some of them were good people who loved their families, so there's that. The Americans were good people who did good things but were too naive and unsophisticated to know why they did what they did. The British are good people who did good things for good reasons, except when they did bad things for good reasons, so those were good things too, really. The Italians changed sides so that 99% of the Fascists could escape punishment for the not so terribly bad things they did. The Croatian Ustashe are beneath notice, and while Polish and French resistance is remarkable, the Yugoslav Partisans turned out to be Commies, so there is no reason to acknowledge them.
Reinhold Neibuhr and Martin Niemöller can't hold a candle to CoE (Church of England) clergy when it comes to the theological implications of morality in wartime, so are justly ignored. Also, lawyers, and moral philosophers, the political “left,” the New York Times, and all other historians are ignorant. And you can tell whether someone is morally virtuous by their appearance and personal habits. Lastly, apparently there is no problem with using terms like “Apache-like” and Gypsy.
TL, DR: Hitler bad, Churchill good.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Not a Yelp review.

So, about 15 years ago (!), I had cause to travel to Banja Luka, in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) every month or so. Back then, it was about a four hour drive, via Doboj and Prnjavor. Banja Luka is the capital of Republika Srpska (RS) - one of two component entities of BiH, and whose very name reminds the remaining non-Serb ethnic minorities of their, at best, second-class citizenship. So, leave Sarajevo early in the morning, working lunch in Banja Luka, more meetings, then check into a hotel for an overnight stay before yet more meetings the next day and the drive home.

My first trip up was in August, and it was suggested that I not stay at the usual "foreigners'" hotel, the Balkana*, as recent visitors found it less than pleasant and newer places had been opening, now that it was coming up on five years since the war.  Proposed was the Dvor*, near the center of town. Ok, said I.

Reception:  The desk wasn't busy, but the clerk still took his time to respond to my presence - which gave me to time to check out the dimly-lit array of pigeonholes behind the desk, each with the room key hanging in front of the slot when any guest was currently not in their room. I handed over my passport; the quickly-concealed expression across the clerk's face hinted at the expectation of a small emolument from the local secret service for promptly notifying them of my arrival and the chance to review the booklet. Oh well; it's not like they hadn't been tailing ever since we crossed the last bridge on the way intio Banja Luka. I was handed the key, told the room number and reminded to hand in my key any time I left the hotel grounds.

No elevator, so I trudge up the dimly-lit and somehow already crumbling stairs, just a single flight to my floor. At least I didn't have to tip the bellboy for carrying my overnight bag and showing me my room: no bellboy.

The Dvor's rooms were recently remodeled and refurnished. Apparently they obtained the wall-to-wall carpeting from a demolished Motel 6, and glued it directly to the concrete floor.  At least the room had air conditioning, a relief with  high temperatures around 90 F (32 C). But the air conditioning didn't work. At all. So open the window, as the night should be cool. The open window looked out over a sidewalk cafe, which afforded my tails a convenient and comfortable place to await my reappearance, and music. Loud music. Until 3 a.m. Not provided by the window - any sort of breeze, cool or otherwise.

Turn on the TV in time for the news and the weather, presented by a middle-aged woman, haired dyed "Balkan red" - in this case, orange. Like meterological forecasts anywhere, the weather report appeared to indicate that the weather halted at political boundaries. Surreal in Banja Luka, as Republika Srpska wraps around the Federation of BiH, and is itself encompassed by Croatia and Serbia. It was if the weather was affecting a very large horseshoe.

Off to bed, to sleep and perchance to dream. More like fat chance. The mattress was fair to being an imitation of a pool table, only without cushion rails, and the pillows bags of cement.

Morning arrives. No hot water and little water pressure. A Continental breakfast is included, so I traipse down to the serving room. As is too often the case on the Continent (and at least once in northern Virginia), the room is the basement. The white bread toast is dried out, the jam mere gelatin infused with food coloring, the "cold" cuts oddly warm, the slabs of pre-sliced cheese able to substitute for kitchen countertops, the coffee cold and faintly oily.

At least I got a receipt for my stay, to attach to my travel voucher.

* Names are changed. Standard disclaimer: The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Overrated Classic: Fritz Fischer's Germany's Aims in the First World War

Fritz Fischer's Germany's Aims in the First World War is an acclaimed classic, usually cited for breaking with forty years of German accepted wisdom that, unlike in 1939, in 1914 Germany “slid” blamelessly into war (to quote UK PM Lloyd-George). That is to say, Fischer asserted iconoclastically that the German Reich bore "a substantial share of the historical responsibility for the outbreak of the general war." And this assertion, commonly accepted outside of Germany long before Fischer's 1961 pronouncement, is what gained Germany's Aims in the First World War such fame and notoriety – even though Fischer himself states in his book “It is not the purpose of this work (to debate) the question of war guilt.” p 87 And truly, what Fischer spends over 500 pages on is not war guilt, but an effort to show that the Second Reich sought to use the war to establish itself as a “world power,” through the political annexation of its nearest neighbors and the economic subordination of much of Europe into a Mitteleuropa.

Unfortunately for readability, Fischer pursues this goal by repetitive chronological rendering of state papers and the opinions of Germany's government officials and occasionally politicians and leading businessmen. Make no mistake, getting through this tome is a slog, one that is rarely rewarding.

Fischer's genuine thesis is buried halfway through the book:
“Leading circles in Germany were convinced that only a victorious war ending in substantial gains would enable them to maintain their political and social order;” p. 329 Such a stance certainly explains the stubbornness with which the Emperor, Army (and Navy), and Reich and Prussian governments held to to arrogant war aims – domination of Belgium and Poland, exploitation of Romania, seizure of the Baltic, Ukraine, even Caucasus, and commandeering the mine fields of northeast France.

But Fischer's emptying of the German archives into his expose leads him astray, by overvaluing any and all documents that support his thesis of an unchecked German will to power. For example, he cites the views of the head of the German Colonial Association and the head of the Reich Colonial Office as proof of German war aims in Africa. p. 587 Bureaucratically, an organization will always advocate for its own narrow goals, irrespective of whether those goals serve the greater good. Without clear evidence that the goal was accepted by the state, such views are interesting, but not dispositive. One might as well say a child's wish for a pony proves the existence of the stable.

And again, Fischer proffers arguments such as that on page 603:
“a long report (in June 1918) by the [Prussian] Ministry of State (was) one more testimony to Prussia's obstinate determination to expand....” It is more likely that the report is testimony to the inertia of bureaucracy, offering reports to the captain on how to arrange the deckchairs long after hitting the iceberg.

The past few years have seen numerous new books on the question of why the Great War broke out. Any of them, even the least of them, is a better contribution to the field than Fischer at this date.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Neither Confirm Nor Deny

"The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals," said a White House spokesperson who declined to be named.
1) So, the WH statement is, itself, anonymous - and not to be believed?

2) "Neither confirm nor deny" is known as the Glomar response (see Wikipedia) -- aka a non-denial denial -- - and it turned out that the denial was demonstratively false. Or, as the NZ Government concluded when the US Navy refused to "confirm or deny" whether nuclear weapons were on board ships planning to make port visits - yep, there's nukes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Word of the Day

Capricious.
: changing often and quickly; especially : often changing suddenly in mood or behavior
: not logical or reasonable : based on an idea, desire, etc., that is not possible to predict
(from Merriam-Webster)

The Anomaly of Employer-Paid Health Insurance

Ever wonder why health insurance in the US is provided through employers, which is NOT the norm in countries with health coverage? (pace Miss USA)
1939—Revenue Act of 1939 (Sec. 104), establishes employee tax exclusion for compensation for injuries, sickness, or both received under workers' compensation, accident, or health insurance.
"The link between employment and private health insurance was strengthened during World War II when in 1943 the War Labor Board ruled that controls over wages and prices imposed by the 1942 Stabilization Act did not apply to fringe benefits such as health insurance. In response to this ruling, many employers used insurance benefits to attract and retain scarce labor."